Dramatic Increase in Poverty Rate: One Small Step for Obama, One Giant Step for the So-Called War on Poverty

September 11, 2015

Heard from someone online of her conversation with a person who thought the War on Poverty was going great until Reagan was elected. Looks like some hard facts are in order. (And before anyone says “That post was from 2010!”, consider this a refresher course for those who need it. Such as all progressives.)

International Liberty

The Census Bureau has just released the 2010 poverty numbers, and the new data is terrible.

There are now a record number of poor people in America, and the poverty rate has jumped to 15.1 percent.

But I don’t really blame President Obama for these grim numbers. Yes, he’s increased the burden of government, which doubtlessly has hindered the economy’s performance and made things worse, but the White House crowd legitimately can argue that they inherited a crummy situation.

What’s really striking, if we look at the chart, is that the poverty rate in America was steadily declining. But then, once President Lyndon Johnson started a “War on Poverty,” that progress came to a halt.

As I’ve explained before, the so-called War on Poverty has undermined economic progress by trapping people in lives of dependency. And this certainly is consistent with the data in the chart, which show…

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In the 50-Year War on Poverty, Bureaucrats Have Won while Both Taxpayers and Poor People Have Lost

September 21, 2014

We fought the War on Poverty, and poverty and its allies in the bureaucracy won.

International Liberty

We know the welfare state is good news for people inside government. Lots of bureaucrats are required, after all, to oversee a plethora of redistribution programs.

Walter Williams refers to these paper pushers as poverty pimps, and there’s even a ranking showing which states have the greatest number of these folks who profit by creating dependency.

But does anybody else benefit from welfare programs?

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation explains in the Washington Times that the War on Poverty certainly hasn’t been a success for taxpayers or poor people. Instead, it’s created a costly web of dependency.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the War on Poverty. …Since then, the taxpayers have spent $22 trillion on Johnson’s war. Adjusted for inflation, that’s three times the cost of all military wars since the American Revolution. Last year, government spent $943…

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Thanks to progressivism, we’ve lost the “War on Poverty”

August 1, 2014
"Defeat"

“Defeat”

The War on Poverty was launched in 1964 under Lyndon Johnson with the best of intentions: through massive spending and extensive welfare programs, the government would eradicate poverty in America and make people self-sufficient. Like I said, a worthy goal.

It has also been an utter failure. In 1964 we declared war on poverty, and poverty won.

As the chart above shows, poverty was in deep, rapid decline in America after World War II without any government help, just the natural processes of a growing, prosperous economy. It looked well on its way to elimination, perhaps. Then, in the mid to late-60s, it leveled off and, save for an occasional bump up, has stayed right around fifteen percent.What happened?

In 1964, with the start of the War on Poverty, progressives and other economically illiterate do-gooders wound up trapping people in poverty, rather than helping them out of it. As Robert Rector at The Signal writes:

Johnson did not intend to put more Americans on the dole (1). Instead, he explicitly sought to reduce the future need for welfare by making lower-income Americans productive and self-sufficient.

By this standard, the War on Poverty has been a catastrophic failure. After spending more than $20 trillion on Johnson’s war, many Americans are less capable of self-support than when the war began. This lack of progress is, in a major part, due to the welfare system itself. Welfare breaks down the habits and norms that lead to self-reliance, especially those of marriage and work. It thereby generates a pattern of increasing inter-generational dependence. The welfare state is self-perpetuating: By undermining productive social norms, welfare creates a need for even greater assistance in the future. Reforms should focus on these programs’ incentive structure to point the way toward self-sufficiency. One step is communicating that the poverty rate is better understood as self-sufficiency rate—that is, we should measure how many Americans can take care of themselves and their families.

Emphasis added.

What was it Ronald Reagan said?

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”

One would think that, faced with all the mounds of evidence that government programs don’t lift people out of poverty, Progressives, who claim to be devoted to “progress,” would see the war on poverty has been a failure and that the programs should be reformed or discontinued and something else tried, something like less government intervention.

But, no. Few ever will be that honest, because to say government failed to reorder society as desired would be to admit that the central tenet of progressivism, a faith in the power of technocrats to manage a vastly complex society, was wrong.

Meanwhile, that core 15% remains trapped in poverty, addicted to government “crack” and walking a road paved with good intentions.

PS: Note the sharp climb back up to 15% at the end of that chart. It starts soon after the Democrats take over Congress in 2006 and undo the 1990s Clinton-Gingrich welfare reform, then accelerates under Obama. Coincidence? I think not.

RELATED: Cato economist Dan Mitchell has often written on the same topic. Here’s a post he wrote on the failures of the War on Poverty and another on the “redistribution trap.” That latter is must-reading.

Footnote:
(1) Many criticize that assertion, with some justification. See for example Kevin Williamson’s “The Dependency Agenda.”

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


The War on Poverty Has Made a Difference…but the Wrong Kind

March 2, 2014

The Left likes to talk about ending the “war on drugs,” and may well have a valid point. I just wish they’d also be open to ending the “war on poverty,” which has done nothing but trap people in poverty. Have a look at the original post for a chart that shows what might have happened with poverty in America, if government hadn’t become involved.

International Liberty

On several occasions, I’ve observed that the poverty rate in America was steadily falling, but that progress came to a halt in the mid-1960swhen the government declared a War on Poverty.

And I almost always included a chart showing the annual poverty rate over several decades.

Moreover, I posted graphs showing how government programs trap people in dependency because of very high implicit marginal tax rates. And that’s true in other nations as well.

But it didn’t matter how many times I revisited this issue, I was never clever enough to look at the poverty-rate data to estimate what would have happened if the federal government hadn’t become involved.

Fortunately, John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis was insightful enough to fill the breach. He shows that the War on Poverty has made a big difference. But in the wrong way.

Poverty Goodman

Here’s some of what John…

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The War to Preserve Poverty

July 20, 2011

Yesterday I chose Lyndon B. Johnson as my candidate for “Worst President of the 20th Century,” partly because of the problems and failures of his Great Society programs. On of those programs was the “War on Poverty,” meant to eliminate the scourge of want and deprivation from America.

From Dan Mitchell, this chart makes one ask if the war has been lost:

As one can see from the chart, poverty in America was in a steady and substantial decline until… government tried to cure poverty. Since then, there’s been no significant movement or net gain. Far from fighting poverty, it looks as if we’re spending billions to protect what poverty remains. If empirical evidence at all matters, then one can fairly argue that statist, interventionist, big-government solutions have been worse than useless.

Be sure to look at the rest of Mitchell’s post, which discusses the frequent distortion of the meaning of poverty by Leftists for political gain.

RELATED: Fausta presents an intriguing chart that puts “poor in America” in some perspective and links to an interesting Heritage study that questions whether poverty is a function of material want or of spirit.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)